The Best Boxer in the U.S.A.

This one is for my dudes.

Team USA Boxer Claressa Shields celebrates after winning Gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics

In discussions about the U.S. Olympic Boxing team’s medal hopes, a few writers have neglected to mention Team USA’s gold medalist: Claressa Shields. This is bad journalism on every level, but particularly absurd when you consider the class of Shields’ boxing ability.

123-pound male boxer Shakur Stevenson is awe-inspiring, but Shields appears to be the more complete boxer. Good boxing is good boxing, whether the athletes are boys or girls.

There was a time when I may have been blind to lady boxers, as some people seem to be. But I see them now, and it is sweet.

Boxing fans, let me show you the way to the light…

Evolving Mansplanations

As a victim of the patriarchy, there was a time when I didn’t think I could handle seeing female fighter’s with facial cuts and bruises.

UFC fighter Ronda Rousey with a cut lip

In the pre-Rousey era, I leaned with Dana White’s refusal to allow women into the UFC. Even after Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, and Lucia Rijker had won me over for women in boxing.

Boys in the U.S. are raised to believe that contact sports are not for girls. Even female soccer players (a very popular youth sport among girls) are often referred to as ‘too masculine’ by critics.

Unfortunately, there was some truth behind the old insult “you fight like a girl”. In a culture where young girls are discouraged from aggressive pursuits, it is rare to find a woman with extensive training in a martial art.

The signature traits of a “girl fighter” were simply those of an untrained fighter: bad punching form, no balance, a high chin and an open mouth… No defense.

Ah yes, the ancient martial art of Pat-a-Cake

I was made aware of this reality at a young age, when my sister easily learned good boxing technique. In fact, my sister was a better boxer than all but two of the boys we grew up with.

Tough Girls

The low skill level in women’s boxing is due to the shallow pool of talent and the extent of the training. No mythic gender predispositions can be blamed. This was proven when Rousey, a more accomplished Judoka than any man in the UFC, made her splash in MMA. Thanks to her lifetime of training and high level of competition, Rousey was doing things in MMA that no man ever had.

Ronda Rousey throws Miesha Tate

The woman that beat Rousey, Holly Holm, represented a similar level of experience from a different martial discipline. Just as Rousey is the best Judoka in the UFC, Holm is the most accomplished boxer in the UFC. Anyone who allows Rousey to grapple with them will likely fall to her Judo. Anyone who tries to hang out in Holm’s punching range will probably be out-boxed.

Holly Holm controls boxing range

This is true for anyone who might face these ladies in the UFC, man or woman, within the same weight class. They are that good at their specialties.

Realizing these facts, and being a lover of technical prowess, I got over the sight of blood and bruises pretty quickly.

The First Two-Time Boxing Gold Medalist From The U.S.A.!

In my article about the Evgeny Tishchenko controversy I provided recaps of each fight in the big Russian’s tournament. I did this because it fleshed out the story of the misplaced gold medal. Shield’s bouts will be well-chronicled in U.S. media, and were not so eventful as Tishchenko’s. Instead, because she is in a class by herself, I’ll focus on Shield’s overall boxing ability.

Shields succeeds offensively and defensively against Fontijn

Though every one of her competitors has doubtless been training to face Shields for years, it hasn’t done much good. Shields does almost whatever she wants, whenever she wants, in the boxing ring.

NBC Sports highlight of Shield’s 2016 Gold Medal match against Nouchka Fontijn (Netherlands).

Any male boxer would be blessed to fight like Shields. She has a solid jab, knockout crosses and hooks, good footwork, and the clarity of thought to set traps for her opponents. Best of all: Shields is never content to simply outbox her opponent, she wants to dominate and finish them.

Shields tries to finish Shakimova

In each of her matches, Shields was able to land the cleaner punches while avoiding the attacks of her opponent. She dominated inside or outside. She had better technique, punched faster, and landed harder. She nearly knocked out Russia’s Yaroslava Yakushina with a lead left uppercut and, later, a perfect right cross.

Shields lands a perfect right hand on Yaroslava Yakushina

As a technique nerd, I can only pick out a few flaws in Shields’ game. She fights small even when she is the taller fighter, allowing short fighters to reach her head more easily. She retreats when she could probably dominate the center of the ring. She fights with her hands low like Roy Jones, Jr. or Floyd Mayweather, Jr., yet does not seem to have mastery of the technique.

All of these habits could be the result of sparring with larger, slower, boxers for many years. Or, it may just be the way Claressa Shields likes to fight. No one has been able to punish her for any of these behaviors.

Limited Options

Despite the disgraceful failures of boxing scribes to acknowledge Shields, she has earned a handful of sponsors. You may have seen Shields on ads by MINI and Powerade throughout the 2016 Olympic Games.

Claressa Shields for MINI

Where does Shields go from here? If Shields has any interest in learning to wrestle, or face kicks, she could hope for a UFC contract. But the problem for Shields is the same in both MMA and Boxing: too few competitors in her weight class.

Claressa Shields shows her muscles for the ESPN Body Issue

Shields is a very strong 165-pounds. I can’t imagine she’d be healthy after cutting 30-pounds to face someone like Ronda Rousey at 135-pounds.

Fewer young Americans, of any gender, are taking up boxing these days. Male professional champions like Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev dominate weight classes in which they can scarcely find a solid contender. Shields could exist as a professional champion, as Laila Ali did, defending a title against manufactured contenders. But, without the Ali name, these mismatches would be hard to sell to the public.

It has been a pleasure to watch Shields display her boxing savvy on the world stage, and get some publicity. PBS has already released a documentary about Shields, and Universal Studios has bought the rights to produce a biographical film. I look forward to seeing more of this great athlete after the Rio Olympics have concluded.

Promotional image for PBS’ “T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold” documentary.

Being just 21 years of age, and without equal in her sport, Shields could come back and win gold in 2020 and 2024. With an icon like Shields, boxing can regain the interest of boys and girls the world over.

Do you want to see Shields fight on?

Do you want to see her in the UFC?

Talk back to me!

Twitter: @Cazzbot